Mono no aware, the Japanese expression to describe impermanence, rings especially true today.
This is the one year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster that wrecked havoc on Japan. A time filled with remembrance, reflection, and mourning, it is also a time of story catching—honoring a place and loss through sharing and communing together over tea.
What makes times such as these meaningful for me is the story—reflecting on change and impermanence though the telling and retelling of one’s experience. After an event such as this so easy to overlook the stories waiting patiently in the ether, waiting for us to discover them. Andy Couturier has done just that: he has uncovered and beautifully told the stories of men and women in Japan before the disaster, giving us a glimpse into the lives of people working to live simple lives in a modern Japan.
A master story-catcher, Couturier’s book, A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance, has been my guide over the last few days. Filled with stories—encounters really—with Japanese women and men, this book was borne out of years and years of travel and living in Japan before the disaster. Reading this book has given me a sense of not only the immensity of the loss, but also a sense of the alternative culture in Japan working towards living in a world in a more environmentally friendly way.
The eleven people Couturier profiled are living modern lives of simplicity and beauty; the have chosen to live their lives against the stream, and instead follow their hearts, and their vision, of the way they want to live their lives.
“And laughing she says, “I understood that wherever you go, every single person, in order to eat, they have to work. They need a place to sleep, and no matter what. In the future, I won’t be able to escape that. But looking at this scene, I though that even though there was no way to run away from working to provide for yourself, It can also be a really wonderful thing, a beautiful thing.” ~Atsuko Watanabe, from A Different Kind of Luxury
Ironically enough, a few people he profiled are not only artists, thinkers, farmers, filmmakers, but also, chefs, yogis, environmentalists, and—like Atsuko Watanabe—anti-nuclear activists.
“It was the incident at Chernobyl. After that I realized I couldn’t just live a humble and plain life in the mountains. I had to get together with other people and try to make changes.” ~ Atsuko Watanabe, from A Different Kind of Luxury
People are doing it: they are living minimally, in beauty and awareness, with time to think and create and thrive. And while this book isn’t a how-to book by any means, it brings us an in-depth look at the lives of people that have found ways to bring more meaning, more being-ness instead of busy-ness, into their lives.
And now, sitting with me, Ito lets out a just a little bit of his disappointment at what’s happening on this earth. “For the sake of money, and for the sake of ‘economic activity,’ people try to change things, products, works of art—everything—as quickly as possible. […] Even though it is the nature of the universe to change, the change originated by human activity is too violent and rapid to accept as just natural. […] The human body and spirit cannot withstand this kind of acceleration. This is what I hate most.” ~Andy Couturier, from A Different Kind of Luxury
For me, these times of reflection are a time of realignment with that which is real and true for me.
This book is inspiration for just that— it is through the simplicity of space and activity that the mind can rest in the present. That it can expand, evolve, and find stillness.
Today, as I write this, the monarchs fly about me, carrying with them soft movement, and yet they are still in all of their activity. They carry with them my heart, as if they could help my intention—my sankalpa—cross the ocean to Japan, and share with them many moments of silence, many moments of beauty, many moments of change amongst the chaos and busy-ness of our modern age.
Pranams to Andy Couturier, for writing this book. It is something I will return to again and again. Namaste.
Editor: Tanya L. Markul